Saturday, April 26, 2014

Surprise Your Elected Officials! Vote!

We march to the Capitol, we talk to our Legislators. We write, call. But nothing seems to change. I could never wrap my mind around that until my own state Senator told me, according to his figures, only 30% of teachers vote. That dumbfounded me.

In my home (with an educator – my dad was a principal, my principal), voting was expected. Mom was a New-Deal Democrat and Dad was an Eisenhower Republican. They laughed about how they canceled out each others’ votes, but vote they did. And “vote” they expected of their daughters.

So, that 30% figure rocked me. Only 30% of my colleagues even go to the polls? I wrote about it, calling my profession’s habit a “Self-Inflicted Wound.”

A new friend, Matt Esker – a former teacher, husband of a teacher, father of school children, still working with young people in Oklahoma – and I met and bemoaned the abysmal participation of teachers, and others who care about education. We wanted to do something to change this trend – it may be our only hope in Oklahoma. We started a FB page, Oklahoma Education Voters, in the hope of providing a forum for people who care about education as a top issue, and sharing education research to support our issues. We hoped we could create a space for conversation, brainstorming, support.

Matt created a great, easy survey to ask people about their top voting issues, and he asked them to rank their three top issues in education. We found that over 95% of our group saw education as a top-three issue, which meant we had found our audience. In just a week over 500 people have liked the page, and nearly 250 completed our survey.

Please visit our page and "like" it, and stay for the conversation.

We found what we knew we’d find: the top two issues with Oklahoma Education Voters are funding and high-stakes testing. 

The issues our participants indentified show that we are informed. A-F grading, Arts education, Common Core, class size, curriculum, funding, health-safety-developmental issues, high-stakes testing, local control, mandates, parents’ rights, poverty, privatization, national reforms, respect and support of teachers and schools, state policies that weaken schools, special education, the current Superintendent, teacher evaluations, teacher recruitment and retention, and teacher salaries. These are smart people who care about these issues.

We should, can, and must be a force in the next election.

Now, we’re sharing links to research on these issues, and we intend to formulate questions from these issues to present to our candidates for local and state office. We’ll compile their answers and share. And share. And share. Then we’ll watch.

After Matt and I launched Oklahoma Education Voters, the world conspired to show me we are working in the right direction. I’ve learned more about this deep disconnection of education voters and our policymakers.

In a conversation with a friend whose parent is an elected official, I learned that politicians are pretty clear: they know teachers may make a lot of noise, they may march, they may write letters and email, but the politicians know teachers don’t vote. So it’s easy to ignore them.  And we’ve seen the results of that.

Another friend corrected my 30% figure with information from the pollsters for our current State Superintendent of Public Education (she may have removed the word “Public” from her title…). They put the numbers at closer to 18%. This isn’t a self-inflicted wound if correct, this is a fatal hemorrhage. Again, if this is true, we deserve to be ignored.

And, in a recent trip to the Capitol, I met the irrepressible Jerry McPeak, Democratic Representative for District 13. I only meant to visit his office, and give his assistant a ‘thank you’ card for his support of our National Board program.  But he was in his office, and he yelled out, “Until everyone gets off their fannies and goes out and votes for education, we’ll continue to have these problems.” That day happened to be the day all computer tests in our state were suspended. He was fired up, preparing for a TV interview about the problems.

So, over and over, this lesson is being hammered: teachers and other voters concerned with education must vote. We must continue to write, to visit, to march and rally when necessary. We must inform ourselves and share our research and evidence. My own state Representative counters my evidence and research for positions he opposes by telling me he doesn’t need research. He uses common sense.

Well, I’ll use it too: common sense says if you care about an issue, you’ll do something about it. If you have the right to vote, you WILL vote. You will inform yourself, you will reach out and volunteer (and contribute if you can) to candidates you support.
And you will vote.

I’m from northern Indiana, close to Chicago. All through my years there I heard the phrase, “Vote early and often.” A real Chicago slogan. When I read Sinclair’s The Jungle, I learned how early Chicago politicians DID pay people to vote early and often. I am not recommending that.

We have one vote…one precious vote. We must use it. But we must, if we care about education, vote for those issues. We must engage candidates and ask about our issues. We must ask them their positions on our issues. We must record those positions and remind them.

We must listen, decide and VOTE.

Nothing will change until we do. We have no credibility with politicians. They think they’ve predicted our voting records based on our past records. We must shock them with our overwhelming numbers, and the focus of our issues.

Then, we must watch our officials, and hold them accountable (man, how they love to beat us up with this word) for every word they told us, every position they said they’d take.

And we will remind them we voted, and we plan to vote in every election.

Vote early or vote late. Vote once. It should be enough.

Primary elections will be held June 24, and general elections on November 4. Here's a link to the Oklahoma site if you need to register.


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